Friday, May 10, 2013

Portugal: Porto, Coimbra, Batalha, Fatima

This was a crazy busy day and not one I would like to repeat except for the Porto part. We arrived at Porto sometime around 11am and I decided that I was not liking being so rushed all the time so I broke away from the group and did my own thing. And was I ever glad I did.
The rest of the group went to a winery to see how wine is made but that held no interest for me because I am not a wine drinker and Porto which was across the river by bridge was beckoning me. It was such a lovely city with fantastic architecture and all kinds of statues paying tribute to religious figures and political leaders. There must have been hundreds of sidewalk cafes so what did I do? I walked across the bridge, wandered around until I found a perfect side walk cafe to have lunch (yes, yes, 3 saltfish cakes in a bun) and a good hot cup of coffee with hot milk. It was entirely too yummy. 

I sat and listened to street musicians, watched lovers walking hand in hand, serious cyclists parking and having a cup of espresso and loved the water taxis hauling passengers up and down the river. What did the others do? They had a wine tour that lasted for almost an hour and then it was another 30 minutes being sold wine and then a hurried trip to Subway - you're reading right - to grab a sandwich to take to the bus leaving for the next destination.

Everyone was telling me how I missed being in the group photo which the winery was selling for 5 Euros each. I told them to draw me as a stick person if they want me to be in the picture but I don't think anyone cared that much. Really, 5 Euros for a picture. They must have sold about 40 of them so that was a worthwhile stop for the winery. 200 Euros in photo sales and then another 500-600 Euros in wine and port sales. That's the conspiracy about taking advantage of tour groups that I really dislike. Between buying pineapple liqueur and chutney and green and black tea in the Azores, the Portuguese economy must be flourishing just from our group.  I could only smile to myself as the taste of the saltfish lingered in my mouth. It was a great lunch in Porto for me! I decided that for the rest of the trip, I would go rogue if I didn't like what was on the itinerary.

We were expected to go to Coimbra which is famous for its academic programs but except for a short stop to another convent, it really was just a drive through the town. That was a disappointment as I thought we would spend more time there. It was off to Batalha to another monastery - this one for Santa Maria da Vitória. I did not go inside but decided to wander around the grounds admiring the church itself. It is most amazing if you stop to see the details in the building, how much work must have gone into constructing it. See for yourself.

We arrived at Fatima which is another religious site for Catholics. I'll write more about that tomorrow since we are spending a few nights here but for now the biggest event was my elevator incident at the hostel. I was told that we'd be staying at really nice hotels that were at least 3 or more stars but this is a hostel. For a hostel it is good enough but the rooms are quite dated and the bathroom has absolutely no ventilation. At least there was a balcony with a view of the road. Others in the group had no such luck.

I have to tell about the elevator. 43 of us arrived and we are all trying to get our luggage into a very small lobby and an even smaller elevator which can accommodate two people and two pieces of luggage at a time and it takes longer to go up to the third floor than it would to walk up slowly and walk back down equally as slowly. I am somewhat claustrophobic so I took a look at the elevator and decided that maybe I would just walk up the three floors with my suitcase. But I also had a backpack and a messenger bag and with a 40 lb suitcase, it would be a trip. Reluctantly I entered the elevator with another woman from the group. The elevator operator (which ordinarily is not required) stood outside with a walkie-talkie and said something in Portuguese when I entered the elevator. I didn't know what he said but from his not, I was not assured that it was safe to be inside. I put aside my anxiety and the elevator started ascending to the 3rd floor. Next thing I know, the elevator stops in mid-floor and shakes. No movement so I push the button (ye, just like in the movies when you think that if you push the up or down button on a stuck elevator, it will move. It doesn't.) Then it starts to move after a few seconds and I can hear someone on the floor above on a walkie-talkie saying something that I can't understand. Then it stops and starts going down. Then it stops. Then the lights go out. Panic is setting in for me but for the other woman, panic has already set in and she is squeezing my hand and telling me to make it move. Like I am God or something.

I don't want to show any fear but in the dark, who would see it anyway? Then I hear more talking and shouting and the elevator starts to ascend. It shakes again and slows down and finally comes to a stop where the woman on the 3rd floor with the walkie-talkie pries the door open and I get out as fast as I can. I vowed at that moment that I was not going to get back into that elevator for any reason. I had to go back to the lobby a couple of times and then down for dinner and then to my room for a shawl and each time I walked up and down the 54 stairs. I am NOT using that elevator again. Is that a -5 star? The dinner was mediocre at best. The only thing that made up for any of this was the friendliness of the owner Cecelia. That was the only thing. No elevators for me in this building.


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